Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that some 6,000 refugees have arrived to Niger from Nigeria, fleeing the Nigerian military’s offensive against Boko Haram. Reuters provides additional context.
Refugees from Nigeria add to existing and recent refugee influxes into Niger. I can count four major streams since 2011:
- Refugees from the 2011 post-electoral crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.
- Refugees from the Libyan civil war of 2011. In May 2011 AFP put the combined total of refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and Libya at 93,000. Some 60,000 of these were probably from Libya – more here. The final total from Libya, given that the war lasted for months after May, was undoubtedly higher. It is difficult to know how many of these refugees have been successfully resettled, but I would imagine many of them continue to live in precarious conditions.
- Refugees from the 2012-2013 crisis in Mali, whom UNHCR counts at 50,000-60,000.
- Refugees from northeastern Nigeria.
Throughout the crisis in Niger’s neighbor Mali, it has often been tempting – including for me – to examine Niger’s “success.” More accurate than calling Mali a failure and Niger a success would be to say that Niger faces its own problems and vulnerabilities, including refugee streams from multiple other countries in the region, and limited resources to give those people.
Professor Attahiru Jega, chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, at a recent event:
INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, in Abuja on Monday attributed the success of the 2011 general elections to the commitment of the Nigerian media.
The chairman said that voter education had become imperative as the nation approached the 2015 general elections, noting that there was need to deepen democracy through credible elections.
Jega said that INEC also benefited from inputs by all stakeholders which resulted in substantive achievements.
He said that the commission was determined to ensure that the 2015 elections were more remarkable than those of 2011.
“The success of credible elections is not the responsibility of INEC alone, but the joint responsibility of all enlightened citizens in the electoral process,’’ he said.
Prof. Jega made somewhat similar remarks approximately one year ago:
Speaking at the opening ceremony of a two-day conference on ‘New Media and Governance: Tools and Trends’ held at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, he said internet platform “provided a vehicle for the unprecedented mobilisation of the emergent generation of youths in the political process.”
The INEC boss said this was “crucial because youths between the ages 18 and 35 constituted 62.4 percent of the 73.5 million people registered by INEC during the voter registration exercise conducted early in 2011. There is no doubt that the level of interest shown by the younger generation in the 2011 elections was never before witnessed in Nigeria’s political history. But I believe that the most gratifying dimension of this development is the patriotic zeal demonstrated by corps of young technophiles who volunteer to man our new media platforms every time we open the Situation Room for election. They did that during the 2011 general elections and they have done so for all the state governorship elections we have conducted this year.”
Jega said there was no doubt that new media tools have added value to Nigeria’s electoral process, noting that new media has the potential to deepen Nigeria’s democracy.
Nigeria’s 2011 elections have been called the “best run, but the most violent.” (For more on these issues, readers may be interested in reports from International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch.)
What role will different media play in 2015? There have been high hopes that media can enhance transparency and accountability, for example by allowing civil society groups to rapidly share – with the entire world – photographs and reports from polling places. Can media help reduce violence in 2015 by promoting accountability – or are social media activists themselves potential targets of violence? Or both?
Los Angeles Times:
A battle over water has turned into a war of colorful rhetoric between Ethiopia and Egypt over the flow of the Nile, which begins in the African highlands but keeps Egypt from being swallowed entirely by desert.
An ambitious Ethiopian dam project is diverting Nile waters that Cairo says will reduce the river’s northward flow. The Egyptians have stumbled into crisis mode: At a meeting hosted by President Mohamed Morsi this week, several politicians, unaware TV cameras were rolling, suggested sabotaging or threatening to bomb the dam.
IRIN: “[Central African Republic] Crisis Remains Dire – and Neglected.”
El Watan (French):
Gao, Kidal, Anefis… Six mois après le lancement de l’opération Serval, que deviennent les villes du Nord-Mali ? Notre envoyée spéciale a échappé à un attentat kamikaze et a vécu des accrochages entre l’armée malienne et le MNLA. Elle témoigne de la peur et de la précarité dans lesquelles vivent les populations.
Seven people have died in the Somali port of Kismayo in fighting between two self-declared leaders of the strategic city and surrounding area.
Residents told the BBC the clashes began in the town centre at midday and lasted for about 40 minutes.
They broke out after one of the leaders tried to meet the defence minister who is attempting to resolve the crisis.
VOA: “South Sudan Switches from Arabic Textbooks to English.”
From May (missed it then), Luke Balleny: “What Impact Has the EITI Transparency Initiative Had on Nigeria?”
The Economist: “Could Political Demonstrations in Ethiopia Herald Greater Freedom?”
Wall Street Journal: “Chad’s President Warns of Islamist Threat in Libya.”
What else is happening?
On June 1, violence occurred at a prison in Niamey, Niger. Initial, and partly conflicting, reports suggested that the violence came either from inmates or from external attackers, but the consensus now seems to be that inmates were responsible. Perhaps three or four inmates held on terrorism charges attacked guards at the prison, some reports say. AP has reported that 22 prisoners escaped during the incident.
While some news outlets initially blamed the Mali-centric Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) for the attack, suspicion now centers on the Nigeria-centric Boko Haram sect. Some accounts implicate both Boko Haram and the Islamist coalition that controlled parts of northern Mali in 2012-early 2013; one of the escapees, AP reported, was a member of Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
If we assume that Boko Haram was involved, there are three basic points I would make:
- Reports of Boko Haram operating in Niger are not unprecedented. News outlets have in the past reported suspicions of Boko Haram activity in Niger, such as the arrest of suspected Boko Haram members in Diffa, Niger in early 2012. Some analysts have posited an increasing presence of Boko Haram in Niger.
- As always, I think it is important to weigh evidence carefully. A moment like the present, when conflicting theories and reported information are swirling, reminds us that the story that gels later – “Boko Haram attacked a prison in Niger to free AQIM members” – can mask ambiguities and uncertainties about what really happened in a given incident.
- Prison breaks have been an important part of Boko Haram’s approach inside Nigeria. The attacks serve to free imprisoned sect members, but also possibly as an opportunity to recruit other convicts. A prison break near Cameroon in March of this year underscored the possibility that Boko Haram might employ this tactic in Nigeria’s neighbors. As we strive to discern what really happened in Niamey, the past pattern of prison breaks in Nigeria casts its shadow over this incident – and highlights the cycles of violence that may take hold when Boko Haram perceives itself as a victim of state authorities, be they Nigerian or non-Nigerian.
As I started to articulate in this post, the Nigerian government’s response to the militant sect Boko Haram has often seemed ad hoc – and, I will add here, cyclical. The cycle involves (a) military crackdowns, (b) talk about security sector reform, and (c) talk of “amnesty” for Boko Haram fighters. Or maybe the word “cyclical” is inappropriate at the present moment, when all three elements are in play.
Following the imposition of a state of emergency on several states on May 14, Nigeria launched a new military offensive on May 15. The campaign has included raids, arrests, air raids, and the destruction of camps. The offensive has been particularly intense in Maiduguri, a northeastern city that has been an epicenter of Boko Haram’s activities. The Nigerian military has stated that this operation has been carefully planned and may last for quite some time. VOA has an interesting piece on how the Nigerian military’s training and experiences do and don’t prepare it for the experience of fighting a guerrilla war.
How does this offensive’s intensity relate to the amnesty that Nigerian elites debated in April? Perhaps the offensive is meant to serve as the “stick” pushing Boko Haram fighters toward the “carrot” of amnesty. The government has not abandoned the idea of amnesty. In an interesting move, the administration ordered the release of Boko Haram-affiliated women and children prisoners earlier this month – their release had been one of Boko Haram’s preconditions for talks. More here. How will the government follow up on this move?
Meanwhile, the military offensive and amnesty talk (insofar as amnesty talk calls attention to addressing root causes of Boko Haram’s violence) raise a third issue: security sector reform. While the military campaign and the amnesty proposal are Nigerian-generated ideas, talk of security sector reform often comes from the outside – in one recent and notable example, for US Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition to the human rights issues posed by soldiers’ abuses of civilians, these abuses seem to exacerbate the conflict between the government and Boko Haram, suggesting that security sector reform will need to be part of any sustainable solution. But serious demonstrations of accountability for soldiers have not yet taken place.
Military operations, amnesty, and security sector reform may all, indeed, be ingredients in a sustainable solution. The problem I see is that these components do not seem to work together. Moreover, talk of amnesty and talk of security sector reform have not yet been effectively translated into action. Until the government can pursue these different aims in a coordinated and efficacious manner, the de facto policy appears likely to remain crackdowns (with rising and falling intensity) accompanied by inconclusive efforts to promote political solutions.
In the first half of 2013, major Nigerian opposition parties have initiated a merger in hopes of defeating the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 national elections. The PDP has won every presidential election and swept most legislative and gubernatorial contests since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. The new opposition alliance is called the All Progressives Congress (APC). This month, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), two parties with strength in the north, formally joined the APC, which also includes the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), whose political strength lies in the southwest. The APC could be the most serious challenger the PDP has yet seen.
But this report from Niger State, in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” caught my eye:
A major crisis may be rocking the Niger State chapter of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) as two factions of the party have emerged with each claiming to be in a merger talk with the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).
One of the factions led by a former member of the State House of Assembly, Afiniki Dauda, who claimed to be the interim chairman of the party in the state, had last week at a press conference in Minna appealed to all the party members to forget their grievances so as to ensure that the merger talk with the other political parties went ahead without any hitches.
But Tuesday in Minna, another faction led by the former Chairman of the party, Hajiya Jumai A. Mohammed accompanied by two other State Zonal Chairmen, Samaila Yusuf, and Tanimu Yusuf, at a press conference, described the Afiniki-led interim committee as illegal and lacking in both legal and moral basis.
The story makes me wonder whether opposition parties’ efforts at unification create incentives for middle-tier leaders to break ranks, launch disputes, or otherwise position themselves within a shifting political order. Pre-existing leadership struggles, moreover, could be exacerbated by speculation that the opposition might have a chance at taking national power. Worth recalling here is that the CPC is itself in many respects a breakaway faction of the ANPP, making the CPC-ANPP rapprochement under the APC banner seem a bit tenuous.
As the APC sets its sights on taking out the PDP, in other words, the new alliance will face potentially destructive fights within its own tent. It will be important to see if Niger State’s experience is replicated elsewhere.
I’m outsourcing today’s post: I’m up at African Futures, a blog run by the Social Science Research Council, with a post on proposals to give amnesty to Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect. If you read the piece, please stop back by here and let me know your reactions in the comments section.